Flawless Rovanpera seals WRC Safari Rally Kenya victory

Kalle Rovanpera (above) put on a flawless performance to become a two-time WRC Safari Rally Kenya winner, the Toyota Gazoo Racing ace ending the grueling African event on Sunday afternoon with a 1m37.8s victory margin after leading since Friday morning’s opening stages.

In what was by far the most challenging FIA World Rally Championship round so far this season, it was the two-time and reigning champ’s meticulous balance of speed and maturity that ultimately secured his 12th career WRC victory.

The 23-year-old Finn, co-driven by Jonne Halttunen, built a lead of almost one minute after winning all of Friday’s rock-strewn stages around Lake Naivasha in his Toyota GR Yaris Rally1, then kept things clean to end Saturday’s second leg two minutes clear as the chasing pack ran into mechanical troubles and tire damage.


That buffer allowed Rovanpera, who has chosen to run only a part-time 2024 WRC campaign, to drive for a finish in Sunday’s final leg, which consisted of ix stages and culminated amid the stunning scenery and roaming wildlife of the 6.54-mile Hell’s Gate test.

Kalle Rovanpera and Jonne Halttunen added a second Safari Rally win to the one the Toyota duo earned in 2022. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

“It’s always special to win here,” said Rovanpera. “Also, it’s a legendary event for Toyota. We’ve always been so good here and that’s continuing. 

“A big thanks to the team — everybody made a big effort to make the car work so well. I think me and Jonne did a good job; I don’t think you can have a better Safari Rally than we did. No issues, clever driving, and I think it was a good effort.”

Takamoto Katsuta completed a Toyota 1-2 as the Japanese marque extended its manufacturers’ championship lead to four points over Hyundai Motorsport.

Takamoto Katsuta earned his third career Safari Rally podium to complete a Toyota 1-2 in Kenya. Toyota Gazoo Racing WRT

Elfyn Evans ended Friday in contention for a podium, and a possible Toyota sweep, but a fraught Saturday, which saw the Welshman stop twice to carry out stage-side wheel changes, meant he finished over four minutes back from his teammate Rovanpera in fourth overall. He remains second in the WRC drivers’ championship behind leader Thierry Neuville, who trailed him by almost six minutes in fifth.

M-Sport Ford Puma Rally1 driver Adrien Fourmaux headed home Evans to complete the podium after a clean and measured drive, the Frenchman grabbing his second consecutive third-place finish, albeit some 47.3s behind Katsuta’s Yaris.

M-Sport Ford’s Adrien Fourmaux put in a clean and measured drive to secure his second consecutive WRC finish. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

Neuville now heads Evans by six points in the WRC standings, but endured a troublesome week aboard his Hyundai i20 N Rally1. Fuel pressure problems on Saturday cost the Belgian several minutes and suspension damage on Sunday, inflicted by a rock on the racing line, added insult to injury. 

His teammates, Esapekka Lappi and Ott Tanak, fared worse. Lappi’s problems included two broken gearboxes over the course of the week, while Tanak could only climb back to eighth overall after his car sustained broken suspension on Friday

In WRC2, Gus Greensmith got his campaign off to the perfect start after winning the WRC’s premier support category by a 1m23.1s margin in his Toksport Skoda Fabia RS.

The odds were stacked against the British driver early in the rally. He battled flu-like symptoms through Friday’s opening leg on rough gravel roads around Lake Naivasha, but charged to a commanding lead of more than three minutes after his main rival Oliver Solberg lost considerable time with punctures.

Solberg fought back to finish second in his Skoda, finishing fastest in class in 11 of the rally’s 19 stages, but the deficit was ultimately too large to overcome. Greensmith was able to cruise through the closing miles, earning a mighty sixth-place overall result in the process.

“It’s been a long week but I’m really, really happy,” said Greensmith. “Thank you to the [Toksport] team this weekend, they’ve been perfect.”

Gus Greensmith got his 2024 WRC2 campaign off to the best possible start with a Safari Rally class win. Jaanus Ree/Red Bull Content Pool

After the heat, clogging dust and rocks of the Kenyan stages, the WRC returns to asphalt for next month’s Zagreb-based Croatia Rally, April 18-21.    

WRC Safari Rally Kenya, final positions after Leg Three, SS19
1 Kalle Rovanpera/Jonne Halttunen (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) 3h36m04.0s
2 Takamoto Katsuta/Aaron Johnston (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +1m37.8s
3 Adrien Fourmaux/Alexandre Coria (Ford Puma Rally1) +2m25.1s
4 Elfyn Evans/Scott Martin (Toyota GR Yaris Rally1) +4m20.2s
5 Thierry Neuville/Martijn Wydaeghe (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +10m17.5s
6 Gus Greensmith/Jonas Anedrsson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2 winner) +18m05.4s
7 Oliver Solberg/Elliott Edmondson (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +19m28.5s
8 Ott Tanak/Martin Jarveoja (Hyundai i20 N Rally1) +21m02.0s
9 Jordan Serderidis/Frederic Miclotte (Ford Puma Rally1) +26m13.3s
10 Kajetan Kajetanowicz/Maciej Szczepaniak (Skoda Fabia RS – WRC2) +26m34.4s

WRC Drivers’ Championship after 3 rounds
Neuville 67 points 
2 Evans 61
3 Fourmaux 46
4 Tanak 33
5 Rovanpera 31

WRC Manufacturers’ Championship after 3 rounds
Toyota Gazoo Racing 131 points 
2 Hyundai Motorsport 127
3 M-Sport Ford 72  

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Story originally appeared on Racer